Detachment and Outrage

I have been following the story involving a leaked video of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of three Taliban fighters. And I have been listening to the outrage pour out from Pentagon that they will identify the men involved and “bring them to justice.”

This is all familiar to me.

I’m reminded of the leaked photos that emerged from Abu Ghraib in the Iraq war. The pyramid. The woman pointing at the man wearing only a black cloth sack on his head. The mockery of the dead man who seemed to have an erection.

Again, outrage emerged from our country and the Pentagon.

“How could these men and women in uniform so desecrate the image and reputation of the United States of America? How could they treat these men in this way?”

The woman in the picture was found guilty and sentenced to a term of up to five and a half years.

And yet, all of this seems sanctimonious and pious and detached.

The outrage comes from those of us who watch tv from the couch, read the paper at the kitchen table, or listen to the news in our car. It comes from those who, whether for or against the war, reside in the country that is at war in Afghanistan and now concluding the war in Iraq. It comes from those who are removed from the situation and know only of war through a medium.

And yet, we are outraged.

“How could these soldiers of the finest military in the world desecrate a fallen enemy?” 

“Don’t they have any respect?” 

And I wonder, How detached are we?

That we would send our neighbors, siblings, and children off to fight in combat with real ammunition, with real danger, where real live people shoot at each other and bomb each other and kill each other – that we would send off our troops into war and expect that after all that they have seen and heard and done, that they would retain the ability to offer the cordial and “normal” courtesy to the deceased enemies?

How detached are we?

That we would send a soul to kill another, and expect that this individual would be able to remember that amidst all of this combat and violence, the enemy is still a person.

We treat the enemies as if they are targets, war as if it is safe and “smart”, and soldiers as if they are impermeable to the horrors they experience and we have the audacity to suggest that these men and women are desecrating the image and reputation of our country?

What does it say of a country that expects war and “normalcy” to coexist?

What does it say of a country that expects killing and “decency” to go hand in hand?

I think that the true horror to be found in this story is that we could honestly be disturbed or disappointed or surprised that war could cause a soldier to try and cope with the fullness of life and death in this sort of way.

We seem to have little reservation or regard to sending our troops off in battle to kill the enemies, but God forbid that one of them be inappropriate about it all!

If anything, these images should be a disruptive reminder to us of the outcomes and byproducts of war and violence to our soldiers.

That we could insist they engage in a method that produces these sort of dehumanizing behaviors should be enough for us to insist that we not place them in these situations any longer.

That we would expect them to kill and respect the sanctity of life is enough to suggest that our culture has so interwoven violence that we are no longer shocked when it is done – only when it is done “incorrectly.” 

That is where we should direct our outrage.



On Osama

This is the “Debbie-Downer” of posts.

People are celebrating because Osama bin Laden has been killed.

But while I can’t really claim to have liked the guy, I’m not feeling all of the celebration and enthusiasm for his death.

First off, I’m not quite sure this changes anything. Those who died on September 11, 2001 will not return; the troops from Afghanistan will not be coming home any sooner; we do not get to undo the damage and death that has ravaged Afghanistan since our troops arrived; we do not get to bring back those who have died serving us and our country; finally, terrorism will continue because terrorism is based not on the livelihood of a particular person, but on the survival of a particular idea – namely, that God has a big problem with some people and requires someone to take up arms to defend God and harm or kill those who seem to be offending God.

And this idea is not extinguished when the God-offenders kill the God-defenders.

Secondly, how is a Christian supposed to respond to the murder of a mass-murderer?

I can’t and won’t claim to speak for an entire religious community. I can’t even come to a conclusion myself as the feelings are difficult to discern. But speaking for myself, here are my thoughts so far:

As a Christian, I proclaim that every person is a child of God (regardless of who they are or how they act).

As a Christian, I proclaim that it is the Peacemakers that are blessed.

As a Christian, I believe that we are to pray for and Love our enemies (difficult though it may be).

As a Christian, I believe that we are to forgive those who “trespass against us.”

As a Christian, I believe in the reconciling, restoring, and resurrecting power of God’s Love.

As a Christian, I believe in the infinite grace of God that is made possible by God’s unconditional Love.

As a Christian, I believe that Osama bin Laden gave himself over to fear, hatred, and evil – all things that are far from the character of God – but God’s Love is greater than the worst of humanity.

Is not God’s Love what we place our hope and trust in rather than our own ability to return violence with violence?

Now, the President says that “all who welcome peace should be pleased” and that “justice has been done.” Can Peace be obtained through violence? Has it ever? Is Justice secured through war? Or are we merely talking about “Security,” which is a far cry from the presence of Shalom that Jesus and the prophets cried out for? Are we merely talking about simple retributive justice rather than the greater reciprocal justice that has the capacity to restore what has been lost?

We may have obtained greater security, but we have delayed Peace because we have not sought to bring about a bigger vision of Justice, instead settling for death in return for death.

So America defeats another enemy. Obama gets to top Trump’s pride about a foolish birth certificate with bin Laden’s death certificate. The Democrats get a leg-up on the Republicans for National Security. And America continues to be the nation that proudly claims we are “under God” though we seem to be very selective in choosing what aspects of our national life God will rule over.

As for me – one of many who are trying to follow the path of Christ – I do not believe I can celebrate bin Laden’s death; I do not believe I can wish that he burn in hell (partly because if God’s Grace is as big as it seems to be as we read in the bible, God can handle bin Laden).

Instead, I think we in the Church should be praying that more of God’s Love may breathe into us, that it may cast out the fear of our enemies, that we may Love them rather than praying for or celebrating their demise. We in the Church should be working for God’s vision of reciprocal and distributive Justice where exploitation and oppression are no more and bitterness, anger, and resentment are transformed. We in the Church should be holding up God’s vision of Shalom so that we may no longer mistake political stability and “security” for “peace.”

Perhaps there should be a caveat to Jesus’ command to pray for and Love our enemies. Namely, if we cannot bring ourselves to pray for our and Love our enemies – if we are so consumed by fear and anger and hatred that we wish pain and suffering and death upon them – then perhaps we should take all the time that is necessary to pray for ourselves (that we can become the sort of people that can pray for and Love their enemies).

And as the celebration of Osama bin Laden’s death begins across the country and world, that is what I feel compelled to do – pray that we in the Church become the faithful people that can pray for and Love our enemies (all of them).